Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nonsense at the Grey Lady

NY Times film critic A.O. Scott went to Romania in search of the “New Wave on the Black Sea,” the title of his article in the publication’s magazine this week about the post-Ceausescu cinema auteurs. Seemingly unable to find what he was looking for, he made up this:

“Though they might be reluctant to admit it, the new Romanian filmmakers have a lot in common beyond their reliance on a small pool of acting and technical talent. Because of the stylistic elements they share — a penchant for long takes and fixed camera positions; a taste for plain lighting and everyday décor; a preference for stories set amid ordinary life — Puiu, Porumboiu and Mungiu are sometimes described as minimalists or neo-neorealists. But while their work does show some affinity with that of other contemporary European auteurs, like the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who make art out of the grim facts of quotidian existence, the realism of the Romanians has some distinct characteristics of its own.

It seems like something more than coincidence, for example, that the five features that might constitute a mini-canon of 21st-century Romanian cinema — “Stuff and Dough,” Puiu’s first feature; “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”; “12:08 East of Bucharest”; “The Paper Will Be Blue,” by Radu Muntean; and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” — all confine their action to a single day and focus on a single action. This is less a matter of Aristotelian discipline than of respect for the contingency and loose-endedness of real experience. In each case, the action is completed — Lazarescu dies; the abortion in “4 Months” is performed; the broadcast in “12:08” comes to an end — but a lingering, haunting sense of inconclusiveness remains. The narratives have a shape, but they seem less like plots abstracted from life than like segments carved out of its rough rhythms. The characters are often in a state of restless, agitated motion, confused about where they are going and what they will find when they arrive. The camera follows them into ambulances, streetcars, armored vehicles and minivans, communicating with unsettling immediacy their anxiety and disorientation. The viewer is denied the luxury of distance. After a while, you feel you are living inside these movies as much as watching them.”

So…how does this strongly differentiate the Romanian auteurs from the Belgian Dardenne brothers, again? Did Scott not catch “L’Enfant” at Cannes? Mungiu’s harrowing suspense thriller “4 Months” has more in common tonally with “L’Enfant” than it does with fellow Romanian Puiu’s bottomless black comedy “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” (As for the visual similarities between those two films, they share the same DP, Oleg Mutu.) And don’t get me started on “12:08 East of Bucharest,” a deadpan bourgeoisie Bunuel marinated in the gypsy absurdity of Emir Kusturica.

In fact, the Romanians seem to combine the brutal simplicity of early Ken Loach and Mike Leigh (like the Dardennes) with the youthful urge to “shine light on truth” that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck displayed more recently with “The Lives of Others.” British plus Belgian plus German equals Romanian New Wave. Tada!

But really, are the Romanians any different from other “reactionary” auteurs that globally and throughout history have been telling their own personal/universal stories in the wake of societal collapse?

And bravo to the Romanian directors for refusing to declare themselves a “New Wave.” With that label comes the very pre-Internet presupposition that filmmakers operate in a chummy bubble, not in relation/reaction to the world at large. It’s a concept that benefits no one but film critics.

A.O. Scott’s article at:

No comments: